Education: Garden horticulture is in full bloom at Michigan State University, helping students gain marketable skills
STARKVILLE – Overlooking the blossoming fields of the RR Foil Plant Science Research Center, also known as North Farm, lies a small, flowering oasis. Not only is the Mississippi State Cut Flower Garden home to over twenty species of specialty cut annual flowers, it also serves as the perfect setting to encourage growth in student learning.
For Cole Etheridge, associate professor of floriculture and ornamental horticulture in Michigan State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, installing and supervising 24 raised flower beds allows his students to learn how to properly care for and harvest cut flowers.
Developing this useful skill can ultimately help students qualify for jobs in fields such as floral design, flower production, and horticulture.
“As we continue to expand the flower garden, I plan to incorporate as many flower-based courses as possible, including Floral Design II in the fall and cut flower growing classes in the summer of 2025,” Etheridge said. “My overall goal is to give students the knowledge and confidence needed to produce their own cut flower portion for use in their future careers.”
With funding from the American Floral Endowment, the garden was planted in the summer of 2022 and has blossomed into a thriving experimental classroom. The flower beds are equipped with irrigation systems, weed barriers and compost bins.
Etheredge has grown and evaluated 23 varieties of specially cut annual flowers as part of a trial through the Specialty Cut Flower Growers Association.
“We start the seeds in the greenhouse at the beginning of March and then plant them in the garden in mid-April,” Etheridge said.
For Lynette McDougald, director of the university’s floral coordinator and instructor in the floral management program, the garden allows students to use locally grown flowers in projects such as party centerpieces, church decorations or everyday design.
“The family grows up on a hill overlooking the farm, which I think is one of the most beautiful places on campus,” McDougald said. “This project is especially important because many of the varieties we grow are often found on the West Coast of the United States for national distribution. They don’t ship well, so it’s important that we grow them for local use.
The garden is home to a variety of flowers, including pansies, solaria, sunflowers and gombrena. The college hopes to eventually expand the garden with more varieties and additional beds.
Having the opportunity to introduce students to the process of laying beds, planting seeds, measuring and applying fertilizer, then cutting and harvesting and learning how to handle flowers after they are cut are skills Etheridge hopes his students will excel at once they are done. Their MSU courses.
“By allowing students to grow and manage cut flowers, they gain a better understanding of what it takes to produce cut flowers for use in careers that use floral design,” he said.
This season’s flowers are picked by the Floral Design 2 class, where students use them to create aesthetically pleasing floral designs.
For more information about the Michigan State University Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, visit www.pss.msstate.edu.
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